November 10, 2011

Plant of the month: Currant

Who doesn’t enjoy a virtually carefree plant? Aside from the fact that they’re easily taken for granted, carefree plants help form the “bones” of a garden—you know you can always count on them to survive and thrive from season to season.

One family of carefree plants is the genus Ribes L. or Currants and Gooseberries. There are more than 150 species of Ribes, according to the U.S. Agricultural Research Service (ARS). And approximately 50 of those are native to North America. This ARS webpage is an excellent resource on all things Ribes: Currant and Gooseberry Genetic Resources.

Ribes americanum

Alpine Currant (Ribes alpinum), while not native, is a common shrub form found in many residential settings. We have a line of them along the foundation of our sunroom at the back of the house. Frankly, they were neglected for years. I pruned them back pretty dramatically in the spring, so they looked better this year. But they’ll still need some attention next growing season.

Here’s an Ohio State University document with great detail about Ribes alpinum: Alpine Currant.

Ribes alpinum

Apparently only male plants are propagated and sold in the U.S., which would explain why my Alpine Currants never have berries. But they look pretty as a backdrop to more showy plants.

Here are more benefits of Alpine Currant:

  • Thrives in full sun to full shade (what other plant can claim that?);
  • Wide habitat range: zones 2 to 7;
  • Urban stress-tolerant and very cold-hardy;
  • Adaptable to various soil types, pH levels, and moisture levels;
  • Foliage forms all the way to the ground; and
  • Attractive bright green foliage darkens and turns glossy in the summer.

On that last point, several sources list Alpine Currant as having little ornamental appeal, but I rather fancy the Maple-like leaf form and its variegated color in autumn.


  1. How curious that they don't sell the female of the species as well... Personally I'd plant blackcurrants or redcurrants, also lovely autumn colour but all those wonderful edible fruit too.

  2. I was wondering about if the berries are edible. The farm grows Gooseberry for sale. I have to admit not using it much in landscapes, but the leaf shape is nice.

  3. I have not seen these much in the landscapes around here...curious how they do not sell the female. I love to plant berries and will have to check out any that may be native to my area.

  4. Interesting that they don't sell the female plants. I wonder why? And I can see the look alike maple leaf shape. Very pretty plant. I love seeing what grows in different parts of our great country!

  5. @Janet: I suppose it could be because the Alpine Currant isn't native here, or because people found the berries bothersome. I'll have to do some research on that.

    @Donna: I think the wild ones are edible. But I'm not sure they're too palatable to humans. The wild ones in the woods are pretty, too, but a little more scraggly.

    @Donna: They're pretty common here. They need some attention to keep them nicely shaped--otherwise, they're worry-free.

  6. @Diane: I just did a little more research and found out it's because the males are more disease-resistant. Here's a nice article on Alpine Currant:

  7. I think I have this currant ~ compliments of the birds. It grew up in the middle of my viburnum hedge! I like it tho so I left it. Our recent heavy snow really took its toll, breaking lots of its branches. Natures pruning, right? I do wish it had berries...

  8. I've never seen these around here, although my neighbors in NY did have a gooseberry bush. I also think the leaves are really pretty. They look like the leaves on my viburnum trilobum (American Cranberry bush).

  9. The autumn leaves of the currant certainly are pretty! I'd never thought of using this plant as an ornamental. Too bad they don't have berries, though.

    Just catching up on blogging today after being away for awhile--I agree the sunlight this time of year is ephemeral! As soon as the sun goes down in the evening, I seem to lose all motivation to do anything productive:)

  10. I love currants and gooseberries. My parents grew them when I was growing up. What a shame they don't sell the female so that we could actually get some fruit!

  11. @Kathleen: Ha! How handy that it landed in the right spot. I know what you mean about the berries. Although so many other plants have berries, I'm OK with a basic foundation plant.

    @TS: I know we have Gooseberries in the woods around here, but not in my garden. Did your neighbors make jam? American Cranberry bush would be a fun one to try, too.

    @Rose: Yes, just another plant that we inherited when we moved here. It gets a little leggy when neglected. Otherwise, it's a reliable basic foundation plant with pretty leaves. :)

    @Karin: Yes, it would be fun to have a Gooseberry harvest. I don't think I've ever tasted them, but they're pretty fruits!